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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 April 2007, 00:23 GMT 01:23 UK
Taleban issue hostage ultimatum
Map of Afghanistan
Taleban insurgents holding two French aid workers hostage in southern Afghanistan have issued an ultimatum.

In an internet statement, they called for French Nato troops to withdraw and for imprisoned rebels to be freed in exchange for the captives.

The French man and woman, who work for an education organisation, were seized on 3 April while in Nimroz province.

France said it was aware of the demands and was currently studying the claim posted on an Arabic-language website.

"In case of refusal, action will be taken against them [hostages] promptly," the website message said.

The authenticity of the Taleban statement could not be immediately verified.

Deal criticised

The Taleban have carried out a number of kidnappings recently, demanding the release of some of their fighters from prison in return for freeing the hostages.

The US and UK criticised a recent deal made with the Taleban by Italy and Afghanistan to secure the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist.

They say the release of five militants in exchange for Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who was freed in March, endangered Nato troops and encouraged kidnappings.

The journalist's driver and translator, who were captured at the same time, have reportedly been killed.

The Taleban are also holding five Afghan medics and say they will not be freed until more of their prisoners are released, something the Afghan government has so far refused to accept.

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